By Rick Pearson and Christi Parsons
10:35 PM CST, January 11, 2012
President Barack Obama returned to the comfort of a supportive hometown Wednesday to raise campaign cash but also faced up to the discomfort of trying to re-energize a political base once built upon hope and change.
Speaking at the first of three fundraising events -- expected to raise about $2 million for his re-election fund and the Democratic National Committee -- Obama urged supporters at the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum to stand with him and step up their efforts to win him a second term.
"Change is hard but it is possible. I've seen it. You've seen it. You have lived it. And If you want to end the cynicism and stop the game playing that passes for politics these days and you want to send a message about what is possible, then you can't back down, not now. We won't give up. Not now," Obama said.
"If you're willing to work even harder in this election than you did in that last election, I promise you change will come," he said.
The 25-minute speech to about 500 people, who paid from $44 to $100, was aimed at rejuvenating those who voted for president for the first time in 2008 as well as attracting new young voters. It was hosted by "CSI:NY" actor Hill Harper, a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama's, and featured singer Janelle Monae.
But talk of an enthusiasm gap among the Obama forces has been an ongoing concern amid questions from some liberals over whether the president had failed to fulfill his promises and from younger voters seeing national policy lurching in spasms of partisan-driven gridlock.
"I don't think he'll get that same euphoria this year that he got back in 2008," said Wendell Mosby of Chicago Heights, a church executive director who volunteered and did fundraising for Obama in the first campaign.
"But we'll still work, raise funds, talk to people," said Mosby. "It's not about euphoria this time around. It's about hard work, about working for what you believe in."
Soon after landing in Chicago, Obama made his first trip to the re-election headquarters his campaign opened in May, delivering a rally-the-troops message to staff and volunteers who fill one full floor of the Prudential Building.
The headquarters looks out over the lakefront Grant Park setting where Chicagoans gathered on a warm November evening to cheer his 2008 election.
The campaign aimed to strengthen ties to real people outside Washington by taking the unusual step of basing a presidential re-election effort outside the Beltway. The move also strengthens the president's home state as an anchor for holding on to other blue-leaning Midwestern states -- like Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan -- while nearby Iowa and Ohio are general election tossups.
Obama acknowledged to the UIC audience that in his desire for change, "I'm not a perfect man. I'm not a perfect president."
The president preached patience again at a $35,800 per couple dinner at the North Side home of campaign bundler, prominent Democratic donor and media mogul Fred Eychaner, the head of Newsweb Corp.
Obama explained to an audience that included Gov. Pat Quinn, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Attorney General Lisa Madigan that he wasn't elected because he was a "flawless candidate," but that he has consistently "kept with that vision" he and supporters see for the nation.
A later reception scheduled for the Hyde Park home of Stuart Taylor, who heads the investment firm The Taylor Group, cost $7,500 per ticket.
Obama stood in the Taylors' dining room and said he recognized many neighbors.
"Is somebody mowing the grass in front of my house? I'm going to go over there and check," he quipped.
Stuart Taylor told him, "Our message to you on behalf of everyone gathered here is very simple and that is: We¹ve got your back."
"If you guys stand with me, if you guys have my back as you guys have had my back for all these years, I guarantee you that we are going to win this election. We will deliver for the American people. And I won’t be back here in (my) house for another five years," Obama said.
After the fundraiser, Obama did stop for about 20 minutes at his own home on his way back toward O'Hare via a helicopter ride from Soldier Field. At about 10:36 p.m., he was back aboard Air Force One headed back to Washington.
The fundraising tour came a day after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has labeled Obama the leader of a failed presidency, captured his second GOP campaign victory in a row with a win in the New Hampshire primary.
Obama did not mention any of the Republican field by name but sought to lump them into the controversies he's had with the House Republican majority.
"America is not going to win if we give in to those who think we can only respond to our challenges with the same tired tune, just hand out more tax cuts to folks who don't need them or weren't even asking for them, let companies do whatever they want, hope that prosperity somehow trickles down on everybody else's head," Obama said. "It doesn't work."
Obama said there's no question "folks are still hurting" in a still-struggling economy.
"We've got a long way to go. The question is what are we going to do about it, where are we going to go, what direction does this country move toward," he said.
"This crowd," he said of Republicans, "they think the best way for America to compete for new jobs and businesses is to follow other countries in a race to the bottom."
He also returned to the popular themes of togetherness and change he first honed in the 2008 campaign.
"Our political parties may be divided, but most Americans, they understand now that we're in this together," he said. "We rise and fall together as one nation, as one people. That's what's at stake right now. That's what this election is about."
Earlier in the day, at a White House forum praising companies for growing domestic jobs, Obama introduced a theme he's certain to use often in the campaign -- that Romney helped send American jobs overseas during his corporate career. He did not mention Romney by name or his time at Bain Capital, the private investment firm he co-founded.
Despite the day's flurry of political activity, Josh Earnest, the White House deputy press secretary, said, "the president remains focused on his No 1. job, which is serving the American public as the president of the United States."
"There will be a time and a place for the re-election campaign to be fully engaged, but we're not there yet," Earnest said.
It was Obama's 11th visit home since becoming president and first since celebrating the eve of his 50th birthday last August with a fundraising event. Aides said he was looking forward to seeing longtime friends and supporters before diving into the presentation of his legislative agenda and budget in two weeks.
Obama's return was also bittersweet. Along for the ride was Bill Daley, who announced Monday he was returning to Chicago at month's end and stepping down as White House chief of staff after less than a year.
Obama said he was taking special note to publicly compliment Daley, brother of former Mayor Richard Daley, on the work he had done for the presidency and the country.
Again noting he was surprised by his chief of staff's decision to step down, Obama said, "as much as I will miss him in the White House, he's going to be an extraordinary asset to our campaign."
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